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BY LALIT K JHA | PTI

WASHINGTON: As US President and NATO leaders meet in Portugal to stress the 2014 timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said the date for handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces was a target and not a deadline.

US sets Afghan withdrawal to 2014

BY LALIT K JHA | PTI

WASHINGTON: As US President and NATO leaders meet in Portugal to stress the 2014 timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said the date for handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces was a target and not a deadline.

While, US and NATO may hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces in most of the provinces in Afghanistan by 2014, some forces may stay on to prop up and advice the Afghan forces, the Pentagon spokesman, Mr Geoff Morrell, told reporters at a news conference.

"2014 has been out there for quite some time as an aspirational goal for us to meet in terms of ultimately putting the Afghan security forces in the lead, to handle primary responsibility for the security of their country," Mr Morrell, told reporters.

I would emphasise two things here. Number one, it is the end of 2014, so effectively it’s by 2015; and that although the goal is to have Afghan security forces in the lead over the preponderance of the country by then, he said.

"It does not necessarily mean, that everywhere in the country they will necessarily be in the lead — although clearly that would be the goal; that would be the hope, that’s what we would shoot for and that it does not mean that all US or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date," Mr Morrell was quick to point out.

There may very well be the need for forces to remain in-country, albeit, hopefully, at smaller numbers, to assist the Afghans as they assume lead responsibility for the security of their country, he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

The idea for a transfer of security in four years was first brought up by the Afghan President Mr Hamid Karzai earlier this year. Since then the Obama Administration appears to have embraced the new timeline.

"We have always seen these as very much linked and consistent that you would, as the President articulated nearly a year ago, begin the gradual withdrawal of US forces come July 2011, based upon conditions on the ground, and then, hopefully, move the Afghans into increasing responsibility for their security," Mr Morrell said.

"We’re already seeing it, frankly. You know, we talked last week, or two weeks ago, about how at the time I think there were six out of 10 security forces in the Hamkari operations in Kandahar were Afghans. I think that number has since risen to seven out of 10.

So Afghan forces, which have grown by roughly a hundred thousand over the past year, are increasingly taking responsibility for the safety and security of their people," he observed.

"We envision that by the end of 2014 they will be able to do that over the preponderance of their country," Mr Morrell said.

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